Alimentary, My Dear
Go Nuts Over Nutella®
By Tamia Nelson
April 21, 2009
How could I have gone so long without discovering Nutella®? For several years, I've been seeing jars of the stuff on HyperMart and food co-op shelves, but for some reason I've never been tempted to toss one into the cart. Until now. I can't explain why it took me so long. I love chocolate. I love hazelnuts. And Nutella has both.
Maybe it was the price. Nutella certainly doesn't come cheap. But it's no more expensive than many other spreads and condiments that I buy without a second thought. (And then use sparingly!) Or maybe it was just familiarity—or rather, unfamiliarity. After all, despite the fact that Nutella's been a well-known brand in Europe since the late '60s, and similar chocolate and hazelnut pastes have been around for much longer, it's not yet a household word on this side of the Pond.
Well, whatever the reason, I didn't take the plunge till a few weeks ago. That's too bad. And it's certainly my loss. I can't believe what I've been missing.
There's some history here. Once upon a time, when I was a very young girl living in a very big city, my grandmother took me to a chocolaterie as a special treat. It was. The shop was redolent with the perfume of rich, Belgian chocolate, a fragrance guaranteed to get the attention of any three-year-old child. Only one other food competed with chocolate for my affections. My grandparents always kept a bowl of nuts on their dining-room table, along with a carved wooden nutcracker painted to resemble a soldier standing at attention. Long before I'd ever heard of the Nutcracker Suite I was cracking and eating almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, and—my favorite—hazelnuts. They were the sweetest nuts of all.
The tastes formed in my childhood never left me. Chocolate and hazelnuts remain at the top of my list of favorite foods even today. So Nutella is a natural choice. For me, at any rate. What about you? Nutella hasn't exactly taken Canoe Country by storm. And maybe you're asking yourself:
What is This Stuff?
Fair question. The label proclaims Nutella to be a "Hazelnut Spread with Skim Milk & Cocoa." This isn't exactly high-calorie ad copy, is it? But now look at the Nutrition Facts. You'll find that about half of Nutella's calories come from fat. That's not so good if you're on a diet, but it's great news when you're paddling hard into the teeth of a cold north wind. In any case, it shouldn't come as a surprise. Nuts are concentrated, fat-rich foods. Ask any chipmunk or squirrel. And Ferrero, the company which makes Nutella, claims that "over 50" hazelnuts find their way into each 13-ounce jar. This is more than OK by me. What next caught my eye, though, was the real deal-maker: Nutella requires no refrigeration. Moreover, it comes in a screw-top plastic tub. Hmm. A concentrated energy spread that you don't have to repackage before chucking it into your paddling pantry. (A plastic bag overwrap would be good insurance, of course. Just in case you forget to screw the lid down tight someday.) That was all I needed to persuade me Nutella had the makings of a backcountry staple, right up there with peanut butter, Newt Nectar, and fresh garlic. (Garlic? Sure! You can never tell when you'll meet a werewolf or vampire on the trail, can you?)
The upshot? I bought a jar. Then, when I got it home, I started exploring…
How to Use It
Any lingering doubts about my purchase ended when I unscrewed the lid and peeled back the seal. I was beguiled by the heady, chocolaty scent immediately. In an instant, I was transported back to the chocolaterie I'd visited with my grandmother. This illusion didn't last long, but the silky surface of the spread promised that further treats were in store. So I scooped up a dollop from the jar with a knife. It clung tenaciously to the blade. The consistency was more like peanut butter than anything else I could think of. I smeared some onto my fingertip and tasted it. The taste didn't disappoint. It was smooth and sweet, yet not cloying. And yes, the flavors of chocolate and hazelnuts predominated. I figured that if I were in a big hurry to get extra calories into me on a cold river, I could eat Nutella straight up without regret. Energy and ecstasy in one go. That's a hard combination to beat.
But there had to be more to Nutella than spooning it out of the jar and into my mouth. I was determined to continue my culinary voyage of exploration. It promised to be a hard job, to be sure, but I figured that somebody had to do it. And I was happy to offer my services.
The upshot? It was worth all the effort. Here are some of the things that I discovered along the way:
Nutella as a Spread No revelation, this. Nutella spreads well, at least in temps that are cool but not cold. (The temperature in my kitchen inches above a bracing 60 degrees Fahrenheit only in high summer—or when the oven's on.) That's probably the way most paddlers will use it. Slather it on your favorite bread or crackers and enjoy. Toast English muffins over the fire and garnish with Nutella. A spoonful of marmalade is the finishing touch. The tart, citrusy complexity of the marmalade complements the sweet chocolate flavor of the Nutella. Or spread a split bagel with cream cheese and Nutella. Then there's what might be called the peanut butter and Nutella combination. Sprinkle peanuts over Nutella on a tortilla. Roll it up. You've got a ready-to-eat tubular sandwich. Or spread one slice of bread with peanut butter and a second with Nutella. Now bring them together. Presto! You've just made yourself a PBN. Another winning sandwich combination is Nutella and sliced bananas. This works best with dense, sweet breads like carrot, banana, and zucchini.
Feeling ambitious? Or maybe you're just planning a lazy day in camp. Either way, make the most of the moment. Cook some pancakes and spread Nutella on top. Want a truly decadent dessert? Make crepes, top them with Nutella and jam, and roll them up. Or pack a pound cake in your food bag and slather it with Nutella before slicing and serving.
Nutella as a Dip Fingers are fine, but you can also use breadsticks, pretzel logs, mini pretzels, and cookies. Don't overlook fresh fruit, either. Quarter Granny Smith or Red Delicious apples, then halve the quarters and use the resulting slices as spoons. Segments of navel orange work well, too, and grapes are great, while fresh strawberries are sublime. No fresh fruit in your pack? No problem. Use dried fruit, instead. Apricots are my number-one choice, but prunes, mango strips, or papaya strips are all first-rate.
Nutella and Ice Cream Ice cream? On a paddling trip? Sure. Read "Chill Out" to find out how to make it. Then, when your ice cream's ready to eat, stir in a generous helping of Nutella—or drop spoonfuls on top, if you prefer. Make an ice cream sundae by adding chopped nuts and a maraschino cherry. For a truly over-the-top treat on a day trip, pack some whipped cream in your soft cooler. It's the crowning touch.
Nutella in a Cup What could be easier than stirring a spoonful of Nutella into a mug of instant hot cocoa? Or maybe you fancy flavored coffees? If so, add Nutella to your cup of joe. Want an end-of-the-day treat? Carry the flavored coffee theme one step further and lift your spirits at the same time by adding some—spirits, that is. Any of the chocolate liqueurs work well, as does whisky (that's Scotch, not the other stuff), or give crème de menthe a try if the spirit moves you. (Don't mix whisky and crème de menthe, though!) For the ultimate hot drink after camp is made and night draws nigh, mix up a cup of choco-java, then spike it with your favorite spirit and stir in a couple of spoonfuls of Nutella. Bliss!
Nutella for Dessert Make no mistake: It's versatile stuff. Stir it into a cup of shelf-stable pudding. Vanilla and chocolate are obvious candidates, but feel free to experiment. Or how about Nutella tartlets? Make 'em at home and take 'em along. If you're not a pastry cook, begin with a store-bought, rolled-out pie crust. Pillsbury® markets these; so do other companies. Flatten the crust according to package directions. Next, dust lightly with flour and cut out as many rounds as you can. (Large parties or big appetites will require several pie crusts.) If you don't have a cookie-cutter—one three inches in diameter is about right—an inverted glass will do the trick. Now place a dollop of Nutella in the center of half the rounds. Don't add too much filling or your tartlets will spring leaks. Use the remaining rounds as covers, piercing them in the middle and pressing them over the filled halves to make a tidy, circular tartlet. To be sure your joinery holds, use a fork to crimp the edges before placing the tartlets on cookie sheets, and don't crowd them too close. Finally, bake your tartlets for between 18 and 20 minutes in an oven preheated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. If you're in any doubt, use your eyes. When the tartlets are golden-brown on top, they're done. Cool completely, then pack in a rigid, airtight and waterproof container for the trail.
Want something truly special? Me, too. Here's a take-along dessert that—to my mind anyway—is in a class all its own:
Nutella Brownies If you share my passion for chocolate and hazelnuts, you won't want to pass these up. But be forewarned. They're picnic fare. They're not really suited to extended trips. And they won't last long in any case. If you make them more than 24 hours before you leave for the put-in, you'll probably have nothing left to take. They're that good.
The ingredients first:
1 quarter-pound stick of butter, plus a bit extra for the pan
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chunks
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons Nutella
1¼ cup granulated white sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped hazelnuts (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter an 8-inch-square baking pan and set it aside. Place the stick of butter and the chocolate chunks in the top of a double boiler and heat, stirring constantly. Just as the butter and chocolate reach the melting point, fold in ½ cup of Nutella and remove the saucepan from the double boiler. Whisk the sugar and salt into the chocolate-butter-Nutella melt. Then, when the mixture is smooth, whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Now fold in the flour. Use a gentle touch here. You don't want to over-mix. Add the chopped nuts last—if you're using them, that is.
Next, ladle your batter into the previously greased pan, and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few sticky crumbs clinging to the wood. Don't overdo it. It's better to leave the brownies a bit underdone than to burn them. Now warm the remaining two tablespoons of Nutella just enough to make it fluid—I heated it in a metal cup on the stovetop—and use the tip of a blunt knife to drizzle it over the hot brownie cake, à la Jackson Pollock. (You'll be one up on Pollock. He may have made a fortune from his "drip period" art, but he never got to eat his work.)
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for five minutes before running a knife around the perimeter to free the edge. Slice into 16 squares and set to one side to continue cooling—if you can resist eating them. (Resist! You'll burn your mouth otherwise.) After the cake has cooled to room temperature, run the knife around the edges and along the squares for a second time, then lift the brownies gently from the pan. Pack in foil or plastic bags, put in a crush-proof box, and head out the door.
Who could ask for anything more? Well, lots of people, as it turns out. Every year in early February, folks hailing from every point of the compass celebrate their consuming passion on World Nutella Day. The event attracts countless ingenious cooks, and a bit of searching on the Web will turn up hundreds (thousands?) of the many ways they've found to use Nutella—most of them delicious.
And what about you? Have you got a Nutella recipe to share? Then don't hesitate. Bring it on!
I'll never understand why it took me so long to discover Nutella, but I'd rather come late to the feast than never arrive at all. And now that I've stumbled on the "secret" that millions of other folks already knew, Nutella's become a regular addition to my pantry—and my food pack. How about it? Have you given Nutella a try? No? Then do yourself a favor. Get a jar and see what YOU think. I'm betting that you, too, will go nuts over Nutella.
Copyright © 2009 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.